You often hear non-divers citing their reasons for not learning to dive, and often one of those main reasons is because scuba diving is dangerous. Their diver friends will often disagree, normally falling back on cliché comments such as “you are more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a shark” or “more people kill themselves driving to work than scuba diving”.
There is often a habit of divers being too blasé about the dangers of scuba diving, and frequently divers may try and push others into taking up the sport who may not really want to participate.
Is Scuba Diving Dangerous?
Although in recent times scuba diving has an excellent safety record, it has not always been this way, and diving can be both extremely safe and extremely dangerous. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the participant.
Sticking on a tank of compressed air and submerging yourself for an hour or more underwater can never be risk free. Equipment can fail, pressure related injuries happen even to those who abide by the rules, currents can get extremely strong in the blink of an eye, and things may happen that are out of your control.
That being said, if you follow all the rules properly, you should never be in any real danger, however if you ignore these basic rules, you will drastically increase your chances of having a serious accident.
Here are my top tips for keeping yourself as safe as possible while scuba diving, so hopefully diving will be a life long hobby for you.
1) Plan the Dive, Dive the Plan!
The saying that sounds cheesy to all divers, yet all divers seem to say it. Planning is an essential aspect of all dives, whether you took part in the planning process or not.
If you just rock up at a dive centre and sign up for a couple of fun dives, you probably will have no part in the planning aspect of the dive, however that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done. Your dive master will talk with the others on the boat, and discuss where the best site would be to suit everyone on board. They will know how deep they are going, and how long they will stay down for.
Before each dive, the dive master should then inform you of what the plan is, and most importantly, what to do if something goes wrong.
If your dive master does not provide you with any pre-dive information, it is time to find a new dive master or dive centre.
2) Check your Equipment is Working Properly
If you think back to your Open Water Course, you hopefully remember something along the lines of ‘begin with review and friend’.
Yep, its that sentence that makes no sense whatsoever, yet is so important.
Conducting your pre dive safety check is a vital part of scuba diving, and something you should never skip, regardless of experience. I have seen many divers jumping in with half empty tanks, forgotten weights, LPI hoses not connected, and closed cylinder valves. Almost all of these could end in disaster for a diver in adverse conditions.
You don’t need to follow exactly what you were taught in your course, you just need to hit all the important parts of the check. Is you air on, and is there enough of it? Do your second stages function properly? Do you have enough weight? Do you have all of your important accessories such as SMB, knife and computer?
You should always do your pre dive safety check in front of somebody else, and don’t forget to actually watch your buddy do their check. After all, if they have any issues during the dive, it is you that will have to deal with it.
3) Assess the Conditions
Like I said before, there are many aspects of diving that are beyond our control. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them though, and we can adjust our plan if needs be.
Before descending, you should always check sea conditions. A boat captain will usually do this, however if you are shore diving, you may need to do this for yourself.
If you can see any storms on the horizon, it is probably a good idea to cancel the dive. Ocean conditions can deteriorate rapidly, and getting back to shore during a storm can be extremely dangerous. If the current is too strong, you should think about cancelling too, as a strong surface current may be even stronger underwater, and there might be up or down currents that you cannot be aware of until you descend. If you do decide to dive, agree with your buddy at what point you will call the dive if conditions worsen.
4) Always use a Marker
Ok, this may not be necessary on a small lake where boat traffic is not an issue, however in the ocean, some form of surface marker should always be used.
The main types are an SMB (surface marker buoy) or a DSMB (delayed surface marker buoy). The difference between the two is that an SMB is used throughout the entire dive, while a DSMB is deployed at the end of the dive.
Why are they so important?
For a boat captain, it might be impossible to spot a divers bubbles, and surfacing in the direct path of a boat will only badly for a soft bodied human. Another reason is that if you do get swept away by a current, it might be very hard for you to be spotted on the surface. For better or worse, we are past the days of the 1980s neon wetsuits and BCDs, and nowadays scuba manufacturers have come to the consensus that divers look better clad entirely in black, which is extremely difficult to see from a distance on the ocean.
Large, brightly coloured DSMBs have saved lives before, and I’m sure they will save many more in the future.
5) Follow Your Personal Limits
During your Open Water Course, you will probably remember that you were limited to 18 metres, yet after only five more you could be certified to 30 metres. This may sound crazy, because it is…
Some new divers may feel extremely comfortable the moment they deflate their BCD, while others may take longer. To say anyone can be qualified to dive to 30 metres unsupervised after only nine dives is just begging for an accident to happen. It gets even worse though, as with some agencies you can complete your Open Water Course, followed by a deep adventure dive, so you could be as deep as 30 metres with only five dives under your belt.
I strongly suggest that instead of following the limits of your certification, you should instead follow your personal limits, and slowly expand them in the proper conditions.
I have had customers who were Open Water divers with more than 500 dives, and I had no problem taking them on night dives or to 30 metres. I have also had rescue divers with 20 dives who could barely hold their buoyancy and would signal problem the moment any water seeped into their mask.
Diving and selling go hand in hand, but selling increased depth limits without really having to put the work in is dangerous, and people are getting injured because their certification card tells them they can go deeper than they really can.
Always start slowly, and go with what feels comfortable to you. Remember, limits are fluid – a 30 metre dive in the tropical, calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand is very different to a 30 metre dive off the coast of Scotland.
6) Know How to Communicate Properly
One of the best things about scuba diving is that it is quiet, however although we cannot speak, we still need to be able to make ourselves heard when needed.
Before every dive, you and your buddy should sit down together and go over all the essential safety signals. You should be able to properly communicate any problems while underwater, and there should never be a point where you are struggling to make yourself understood.
It is not just hand signals you should understand either. Light signals are important for when it is dark, and sound signals are very important for low visibility conditions.
7) Always Check Your Gauges
This is another thing experienced divers get complacent with.
“I know how much air I use, I don’t need to check” is one of the most ridiculous and stupid comments I regularly hear divers saying, especially when it comes from the same people who forget to turn their tanks on or even check they have a full tank before the dive.
Most serious dive accidents are caused by divers running out of air, panicking, and holding their breath all the way to the surface. The entire scenario could be avoided by simply looking at a gauge, which really is as easy as moving your eyes.
You should check your air gauge every five minutes or less, and you should always know roughly how much air your buddy has. Don’t forget to check your computer either, or you may end up a lot deeper than you had intended.
8) Only Dive with the Best Equipment
Scuba divers generally take great pride in their equipment. After all, it is expensive, and of course failing to look after it could result in death…
By “only dive with the best equipment” I don’t mean the most expensive. I mean equipment that is properly looked after, cleaned after every dive, regularly serviced, and is up to the task you are throwing at it.
If you don’t own your own equipment and will need to rent from a dive centre, always check the equipment before signing up. You can easily judge a dive centre from their equipment room. If the 5mm wetsuits look more like 1mm and full of holes, you can bet the regulators will leak just as much as that suit will, and probably to boat too.
A company that is proud of its equipment will be more than happy to show you around and explain what they have in stock and their service history. A company that doesn’t want to show you obviously has something to hide, and that should make you wonder what else are they hiding?
The ‘Take Home’ Message..
Diving can be dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be.
At the end of the day, it is you who is responsible for your own safety, and if you show poor judgment, you may discover diving is more dangerous than you could have possibly imagined.
By following these simple rules, you can ensure your diving career will be a long and enjoyable one, and hopefully you will be a role model for others to emulate.
Do you have any rules you like to follow while scuba diving? Or maybe any stories about when things when wrong? If so, we would love to hear from you. Leave any comments in the comments section below and we will be sure to get back to you.
‘Is Scuba Diving Dangerous? 8 Tips for Safer Diving’ was written by Mike